Big picture: Vaccines offer hope, but don’t expect COVID-19 to disappear

Health officials and experts are warning that wholly eradicating the virus is not likely an achievable goal.

Instead, the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, are likely here to stay, a new and perpetual threat to human health that hums in the background of our everyday lives.

“This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus may never go away,” Mike Ryan, director of the World Health Organization’s emergencies program, said in May, just months after the pandemic began. “I think it is important that we be realistic, and I don’t think anyone can predict when or if this disease will disappear.”

Even the vaccines, which have shown a tremendous degree of efficacy against the virus, are not likely to result in its erasure. The vaccines will save millions of lives as they become more widespread, but there will always be some people who either lack access to or refuse to accept shots.

What’s next: The likelihood that the virus will never truly go away is putting renewed focus on treatments for the disease, development of which has lagged behind the vaccines. Some experts said the annual development of an influenza vaccine — which scientists base on observations about which strain is likely to become dominant in a given year — represents a likely blueprint for the future of COVID-19.